BBC TV figures for Tokyo Olympics slump to lowest since Athens 2004

While the BBC’s online viewing figures for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics remained impressive, the television statistics were worse than those of the Rio, London or Beijing games

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Tokyo 2020: Morhad Amdouni knocks over water bottles

BBC’s television viewing numbers for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics dropped to their lowest since Athens 2004 as more people chose to tune in via their online service. In total 36.4 million chose to watch the coverage on TV, compared to 104 million requests to watch the action online.

Such high online figures are surprising given the reduction in availability of sports that the BBC faced this year after American giant Discovery purchased the pan-European broadcasting rights. This meant that while Eurosport or Discovery’s online subscription service Discovery+ could show every event, the BBC was restricted to just two streams at any given point.

Lamont Marcell Jacobs’ success in the men’s 100 metres final was the most watched event on TV during the Tokyo Olympics



BBC did however have more hours of coverage available than ever as a result of the red button option providing an alternative to whatever was being broadcast on the main channel.

The 36.4 million figure of BBC television viewers is taken from the number of people who watched at least 15 minutes of the coverage. That number is just short of the 37.4 million from Beijing 2008 and considerably below Rio 2016’s 45.24 million. London 2012 viewing figures are unsurprisingly astronomical, with 51.9 million tuning in at some point.

The rapid growth of online accessing of the Olympics is clear to see. Five years ago, 68.3 million devices accessed the BBC’s online Olympic services during the Rio Olympics. The time difference between Japan and the UK and the subsequent fact that much of the action took place overnight no doubt also affected those numbers.

Despite the absence of Usain Bolt, the men’s 100 metres final remains the blue riband event at Olympics having garnered a 5 million viewers, the most of any discipline. The women’s race picked up 4.5 million, while 3.6 million watched Max Whitlock retain his pommel horse crown.

The most requested online moment was Lauren Williams’ heartbreaking defeat in the women’s taekwondo final as she won a silver medal and Charlotte Dujardin’s fifth Olympic medal success in the team dressage.

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